The Cable

Situation Report: Women to graduate Ranger school; coalition numbers for Iraq; secret Patriot games; Air Force misremembers cost of new bomber; Marines to Eastern Europe; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley First, not last. At the end of this week, two U.S. Army officers will become the first women to pin the storied black and gold Ranger tab to their sleeves, having conquered a grueling 61-day training course that less than three percent of all U.S. Army soldiers have managed ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

First, not last. At the end of this week, two U.S. Army officers will become the first women to pin the storied black and gold Ranger tab to their sleeves, having conquered a grueling 61-day training course that less than three percent of all U.S. Army soldiers have managed to complete.

While their names are not being released, the significance of what they have accomplished at a time when all of the military services are looking for ways to integrate women into more jobs will reverberate for years to come. The two soon-to-be graduates kicked off Ranger school on April 20 with 380 men and 17 other female soldiers in the first class to ever include women. And while two have made it all the way through to the end, a third female soldier is still completing the mountain course, and could be joining the next class of graduates.

“Whether I agree or disagree with it, they have changed my mind,” remarked Sgt. Major Colin Boley, the operations sergeant major for the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. “I didn’t think that they would physically be able to bear the weight and I thought they would quit or get hurt, and they have proved me wrong,” he said.

But the graduation is only the beginning. Women are still denied entry into the training program to enter the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, and while the November class for Ranger school is open to women, there is no word on what the Army plans to do next.

Training day. The United States has committed 3,500 troops to the training mission in Iraq, but those soldiers and Marines are hardly alone in baking under the Iraqi summer sun. A range of allies have also deployed not insignificant numbers of troops, with the Aussies leading the pack. The Canberra government has deployed 500 soldiers, followed by Spain (300), then Italy (280), the U.K. (275), and France (200). The numbers come from a new Congressional Research Service report, which also identifies the total international troop contribution in Iraq at over 5,900. The report also says that the U.S. troop contribution to training Syrian rebels is somewhere between 400 and 700 troops. A total of 60 countries are supplying some sort of assistance to the mission, anything from a handful of trainers to fighter planes to money and humanitarian aid.

Patriot games. There are about 1,800 U.S. forces currently stationed in Turkey, a number which will shrink by about 250 come October when the U.S. Army brings home the two Patriot missile systems that it had deployed there in 2013.

The mission in Turkey, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters on Monday, is not “the highest priority globally” and thus could be cut in order to send the missile systems back to the States for upgrades. The return of the Patriots — and the explanation that the mission in Turkey wasn’t as critical as it is in other parts of the world– got SitRep wondering, just how many Patriot systems are out there, and where are they? Unsurprisingly, the Army is keeping the details of the global deployments under wraps.

But we do know a few things. The U.S. Army has a total of five Patriot brigades stationed in nine countries, including Suwon Air Base and Osan Air Base in South Korea; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan; and at Kaiserslautern in Germany. In Europe, there are a total of five Patriot batteries belonging to the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. There’s also at least one more somewhere in “Southwest Asia,” according to Defense Department press releases, which is often Pentagon shorthand for Kuwait or Qatar.

Looking east. The U.S. Army has been driving its tanks and armored vehicles all around Eastern Europe for months now in a flashy — if not overwhelming — show of force with eyes fixed firmly on Moscow. Never one to miss a party, the Marine Corps is getting into the action, sending tanks, personnel carriers and troops to the shores of the Black Sea. Like the Army, the Corps isn’t exactly flooding the region with armor, but that’s not the point. Army and Marine leaders have said that the moves are more about building relationships on NATO’s eastern borders than about shaking a fist at Moscow with armor columns bristling with weaponry.

About 160 Marines, four M1A1 Abram tanks, three 155 mm Howitzers, and six light-armored vehicles will take a long train ride from Germany to Bulgaria in the coming days as part of a newly-formed permanent presence to help train local allies and partners. While the Marines in the Black Sea Rotational Force will rotate in and out on six-month deployments, the equipment will stay. The Black Sea Rotational Force has been around since 2010 moving some of the 1,700 Marines stationed in Europe through training exercises with eastern partners, but this is the first time Marine equipment will be permanently stationed in the Bulgaria.

We’re grinding it out through the hottest part of the summer over here at SitRep, and while Washington is billed as a pretty sleepy place in the summer, no one seems to have informed the rest of the world. As usual, please direct any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Air Force

Ask the Air Force how much its next bomber will cost in the first 10 years of the planned 30-year program, and it will tell you any one of three different figures, depending on when you asked. Bloomberg reports that in annual reports to Congress on the projected procurement and support costs for the new bomber, the Air Force has been lowballing the figure at $33.1 billion, only to suddenly ratchet it up to $58.4 billion in the most recent report. But when Bloomberg called the Air Force on the discrepancy, the service came back with yet another number, saying the expected cost should have been $41.7 billion all along. Needless to say, the shifting estimates have some worried that the service’s grip on cost projections for the bomber are less than firm.

Son Of Warthog?

The Air Force is thinking about purchasing a successor to the A-10 Warthog, the long-lived close air support (CAS) plane beloved by ground troops. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command released a strategy calling on the service to “explore opportunities for a future CAS platform.” That may soothe at least some of the concerns of Warthog partisans on Capitol Hill over the Air Force’s plans to retire the A-10 and leave its CAS duties to the multirole F-35 fighter jet, since spending more money can often calm tempers in a Washington budget fight. But how the flying branch would pay for a brand new aircraft in the era of sequestration remains an open question.

Israel

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) recently held exercises in the north of the country near the Syrian border in order to prepare for a contingency involving attacks either by Hezbollah or Sunni jihadists, the Times of Israel reports. The exercise involved the simulated evacuation of Israeli civilians from the Golan Heights. While the IDF is preparing for Islamist attacks from Syria from both Sunni and Shia extremists, attacks from the Iran backed terror group Hezbollah are foremost in the IDF concerns, given a string of cross-border attacks reportedly linked to the group over the past two years.

Turkey

The United States has been involved in secret talks with the Kurdish PKK through intermediaries, according to Cemil Bayik, a leader from the group who spoke to The Daily Telegraph. The group, a State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, has been using cutouts to engage in dialogue with the United States. The PKK and its Syrian affiliates have, with U.S. help, been one of the more effective forces fighting Islamic State, but has come under heavy attack from Turkish warplanes recently. Bayik floated the idea of an American-guaranteed ceasefire with Turkey, but warned that “If America continues to back Turkey’s policies it is possible it will lose the Kurds.”

Iraq

Last week saw reports of the Islamic State using chemical weapons, including mustard agent against Kurdish forces in Iraq. Now, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international agency dedicated to eradicating the weapons, will begin investigating the reports. Most recently, OPCW was in charge of monitoring Syria’s destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal, which some now claim was deceptively incomplete.

Missiles

Politico catches up on the growing global interest in hypersonic missiles, the delivery vehicles which travel at multiple times the speed of sound and reach their targets before adversaries have time to react. The United States, China, and Russia have all spent big on developing their own hypersonic weapons. The appeal lies, in part, on the ability to deliver a weapon from comfortably far away, which is great if you, like the United States, are looking to deliver conventional weapons quickly and from a comfortable remove. But the possibility that China and Russia could use the technology to deliver nuclear weapons that race through American missile defenses have some worrying whether the hypersonic race could be destabilizing.

Finally…

We leave you with the dulcet, autotuned sounds of Hell Luv. She’s the “Kurdish Shakira.” Well, she would be if Shakira strode tanks in bullet bandoliers and cammies and fired artillery. Her latest song “Revolution” is a call to arms against the Islamic State. The video for the song was filmed near the Kurdish battle lines around Islamic State-occupied Mosul, offering Luv the opportunity to fire off a shell at the group.

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